As the Tampa Bay Lightning departed for Tennessee on Sunday, their thoughts were back home in what may become the next “City of Champions.”
The Lightning face the Nashville Predators for the first time on the road and third time overall Monday, starting a back-to-back series between the Central Division opponents.
With the Bolts as the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Rays claiming last season’s American League pennant and the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning the NFC for the second time, the team’s mind was on Super Bowl LV– also in Tampa.
Watching the big game hoped to provide some relaxation before renewing their physical battle with the Predators, who lost twice last week in Tampa — one being a fight-filled bout last weekend.
“Any time a team can go on a run — whether it’s the Lightning, Rays or Bucs — you were definitely following,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It seems here in the community we’re all in this together.
“I feel sick for the fans that they haven’t been able to watch in person the three teams rise to the top, but there’s a sense of pride being from Tampa.”
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has seen it before.
“I got a taste of it in my rookie year when the Rays went to the World Series (in 2008) and the Super Bowl was hosted by Tampa, so it’s come full cycle now and been cool to be a part of,” said Stamkos, who turned 31 on Sunday.
Through seven wins in nine games, the Lightning appear to be primed to add to the city’s burgeoning resume of success, and they showed they can go about it in different ways when they faced the Predators — winning 4-3 and 5-2 in tilts that featured stretches of dominant play by the home side.
The Lightning played fast but also big, strong and edgy — characteristics they added to their team last season by acquiring forwards Pat Maroon, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman.
Nashville showed plenty of fight in its subsequent series in South Florida when they split back-to-back games with the Florida Panthers.
The resilient Predators kept grinding again in Thursday night’s 6-5 win when they scored twice down two goals in the in final three minutes of regulation to force overtime. Filip Forsberg, who produced five points, won it in overtime with a minute left.
But the dramatic win came at a price.
Mired in a goalless slump, top-line center Ryan Johansen was lost with an upper-body injury Thursday. That forced Matt Duchene’s line of Mikael Granlund and Forsberg to the top in Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Panthers when the Predators were clearly outplayed.
Florida outshot the visitors 20-5 in the first period and 36-25 overall. The Panthers also meted out 40 hits to Nashville’s 25, plus won the faceoffs 37-25 after losing the battle in the dot by almost the same margin Thursday.
“(The problem) is inconsistency through our game,” Nashville coach John Hynes said. “If you’re going to win consistently and string wins together and get yourself into a situation where you’re going to be a competitive team, the inconsistencies need to stop.”
On Saturday, the club sent forwards Eeli Tolvanen and Mathieu Olivier to the taxi squad.
–Field Level Media